TORONTO — The discovery of swastikas inside an Ontario university classroom this week has left some students feeling distraught, the school calling the symbols “hate graffiti” and police investigating what happened.
Freya Clews said she showed up early to her education class at the Victor Dahdaleh Building at York University in north Toronto around 8 a.m. Monday when she noticed a commotion at the front.
“The professor started the lecture, but said ‘unfortunately there was an incident and we have to cancel the class because the class is now a crime scene and police are coming in,'” Clews said.
That’s when she noticed two swastikas on the wall.
“Everyone was feeling pretty disconcerted by it and uncomfortable with it,” said the 22-year-old. “It was just so strange.”
Clews noted that one of the symbols on the wall was “drawn wrong,” and said students in the room quickly packed up and left.
“I couldn’t tell if it was somebody goofing around or being a jerk or someone who really intended to be hateful or intended something else,” Clews said
Regardless, she said, the students in the class interpreted what was on the classroom wall as anti-Semitic images.
Samina Sami, the executive director with the university’s department of community safety, said in addition to the “hate graffiti,” an anti-Semitic statement was also found in the classroom.
She said York contacted police upon the discovery of the symbols.
“We stand against all forms of hate, and anti-Semitism is not tolerated on our campuses and does not reflect our value of inclusion,” Sami said in a statement, adding that the defaced areas are being repaired.
“We have been working proactively with Jewish students and other campus groups to support a safe and inclusive campus.”
Toronto police have begun an investigation, according to Const. Craig Brister, although the force is leery to call what happened a hate crime just yet.
“We found swastikas, but one was not the same orientation,” Brister said, adding that the symbols were written in chalk.
Police are treating the incident as a case of mischief at this point, but officers are continuing to investigate.
Several student groups condemned the incident.
“It is our firm conviction that the people responsible for this hate crime be held accountable,” said Chenthoori Malankov, president of the York Federation of Students.
Malankov said the student union “will continue to work with campus communities affected by this hate crime and continue the ongoing work in challenging anti-Semitism.”
The local chapter of an international Jewish student organization said it was pleased the university issued “a strong condemnation.”
“This incident is deeply alarming for Jewish students at York and the broader Jewish community,” said Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario. “This incident is an unfortunate reminder that anti-Semitism continues to persist even in a society as welcoming as Canada and a city as diverse as Toronto.”